Two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer finished his last swing on the practice tees Tuesday at Del Paso Country Club and jokingly told the crowd he was leaving because they were being mean to him.
Fred Funk was hitting tee shots next to Langer and turned to the crowd and said, “You shouldn’t be mean to him. He’s a foreigner.”
The Germany-born player, who won the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, stopped in his tracks, turned to Funk and corrected him.
“I’m not a foreigner,” the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., resident shot back at Funk. “I’m a resident alien.”
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Without missing a beat, Funk replied, “The way you’ve been playing, you are an alien.”
Langer has dominated the Champions Tour since he left the PGA Tour in 2006. He won the Senior Players Championship wire-to-wire two weeks ago at the Belmont Country Club in Belmont, Mass., for his 24th Champions Tour victory. He’s been the Champions Tour money leader six of the last seven years and is second on the money list this season behind Colin Montgomerie, with one fewer tournament appearance.
Funk fires away
Funk was on the practice tees for about 90 minutes, hitting a variety of iron shots mostly, when he turned almost 90 degrees to his right and began firing 125-yard wedge shots at a large auxiliary tent near the entrance to the practice tees.
The first two shots from the 2009 U.S. Senior Open champion missed just short, then he hit the base of the tent with consecutive shots and then said to a small crowd watching him, “OK, now I’m aiming for inside the tent. I hope there’s no one in there.”
With a velvety smooth swing, Funk launched a ball that flew through the open flap on the tent, hit a chair inside and bounced back out. The crowd erupted in applause and Funk, in his ever-present deadpan, said, “That will probably be my best shot of the week.”
His business card says locker room manager, but Ray Jackson takes special pride in his shoe-shine skills. Jackson has worked at Del Paso Country Club for 22 years and is working each day with the professional golfers, many of whom wear expensive, custom-made golf shoes. And the sports maxim holds true in golf: If you look good, you play good.
“This is a unique experience for me, to see and be around these great pros here every day,” said Jackson, a South Natomas resident. “Plus, I get to show off my talent.”
About halfway through Tuesday’s practice rounds, Jackson had already shined around 100 pairs of shoes, he said, and not just golf spikes. Tom Lehman brought in white Tommy Hilfiger flip flops, and Jackson was able to clean the sides to a brilliant shine. Mark Calcavecchia’s size-13 black and white FootJoys were restored to like-new condition and awaited pickup on a table near the lockers. Adjacent to the shoes was a tip jar. It was empty early Tuesday, but Jackson wasn’t worried. Tournament players, Jackson said, almost always wait until the last day to tip attendants.
“I’m not worried at all,” he said. “They call me ‘Houdini’ because I make things they need appear out of thin air.”
Mark Billingsley is a Carmichael-based freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com or @editorwriter001.